MPs urge asbestos company to pay £10m to fund cancer research

All-party group including peers backs campaign by victims’ group, saying Cape ‘knowingly put people in danger’

MPs and peers have written to one of the biggest manufacturers of asbestos, calling on it to make a £10m donation towards mesothelioma research “for knowingly putting people in danger”.

In a letter to Altrad, parent company of Cape, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on occupational safety and health says that documents released after a long-running court battle show that Cape historically “provided misleading reassurance about the dangers of asbestos”.

The MPs and peers also say the documents show that Cape “compromised the government’s regulatory response to asbestos” by selectively sharing sampling data on the carcinogenic material and lobbying for higher permitted dust limits and watered down product warnings.

After the release of the documents, which Cape resisted, taking the case to the supreme court, the Asbestos Victims Support Groups (AVSG) Forum UK has been campaigning for the company to make a £10m donation towards mesothelioma research.

In a letter to Altrad’s chief executive, Ran Oren, the APPG urges him to meet the demand, pointing out that, in 1969, Cape’s group medical advised that the fatal cancer could be caused by “short and possibly small” exposure and that “no type of asbestos proved innocent”.

The Labour MP Ian Lavery, the APPG chair, and the group’s other members, say: “Knowing the links between the products made by your company, the role of Cape in knowingly putting more people in danger, and the devastating consequences, we appeal to your company to make this donation. Mesothelioma is always terminal, and Britain has the highest rates of anywhere in the world.

“Your company has played a major role in exposing people to the toxic substance, meanwhile profiting at their expense. Your contribution to medical research may go some way to recompense victims of asbestos disease.”

The letter says that, according to reports published last year, Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited had net assets of £151.5m in 2021, and Altrad made a net profit of €169m (£148m), therefore the companies “have substantial resources to pay the £10m”.

The letter follows one sent by the TUC to Altrad also urging it to make the £10m donation. It cited the statistic that 80% of schools that responded to a government survey said their buildings contain asbestos so, the TUC said, children are also affected.

A Cape spokesperson said: “Cape understands the unfortunate legacy which asbestos has on people’s health. It will be reaching out to the AVSG to establish how it and other stakeholders can support victims of asbestos-related illness beyond the support already provided through its victim compensation fund – the scheme of arrangement.”

The spokesperson said the company had already paid in excess of £48m to individuals and families affected by its past activities under the scheme, adding: “It is important to highlight that the materials referred to extend to certain extracts from thousands of documents dating around 60-70 years ago.

“The current management have not reviewed these documents and cannot comment on the accuracy of the allegations either individually or within the context of facts and circumstances from the 1950s and early 1960s.”


Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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